As the year winds down, there is still no end to Soprano State shenanigans and worse. In South Bound Brook, the former police chief cut a deal with the borough to retire with a raise that allows him to take home nearly $260,000 in salary and unpaid vacations, etc. Now that might not be unusual in New Jersey, but it’s a settlement reached in the wake of allegations, contained in a police report, that Ex-Chief William King struck a parked car with his vehicle, left the scene, and drunkenly lied about the crash to one of his own cops shortly after the accident, NJ Advance Media reported. No charges were filed after a Somerset County investigation, and the case was referred back to the borough. King departs with his service weapon and a retired chief’s badge.
Dave Hutchinson, NJ Advance Media, Dec. 8, 2015;
Louis C. Hochman and Alex Napoliello, NJ Advance Media, May 5, 2015
Linda Watkins Brashear, former executive director of the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp. admitted accepting bribes and kickbacks from contractors and an employee in return for awarding contracts for work that either was not done or had an inflated price. We have seen this before, but this time, the price tag was high. The feds said Brashear raked in $999,000 in illegal payments. Investigators issued a chart of the payments made to printing, marketing, cleaning and homeland security contractors, an interior designer, and internet, political, media and security consultants. She faces up to 20 years in prison.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Dec. 21, 2015
Unfortunately, we have seen this before too in the Soprano State where even drinking water isn’t sacred. The former operator of New Brunswick and Milltown public drinking water systems pleaded guilty to submitting bogus water reports to the state Department of Environmental Protection. Between April 2010 and December 2012, Edward O’Rourke sent fake water testing data to DEP to hide the fact that he failed to oversee the testing, investigators said. He submitted false test results on more than 200 water samples to cover up tests that were never done, were not taken at the proper location or within the proper time frame or that the lab was not certified to perform, state prosecutors said.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Dec. 17, 2015
Anthony Christaldi was sentenced to five years in prison for paying a $10,000 bribe to an official of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority in order to get a better price on land he was trying to sell to the agency. (Questionable land deals related to the CRDA can be found in chapter 7.) This time, a sting operation nabbed Christaldi, and a jury convicted him of bribery. Christaldi wasn’t very subtle in his methods, even for New Jersey. When CRDA said ‘no’ to his $157,500 price, he offered a $10,000 bribe if the agency would pay $105,000, and a $15,000 bribe for an even higher price. Unfortunately for Christaldi, a CRDA official contacted state prosecutors about the offer.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Dec. 18, 2015
The taxpayer tab for the lawyers defending Gov. Christie in the Bridgegate scandal has risen to $8 million. (A blended rate of $350 per hour for more than 12 lawyers who produced a report placing no blame on the governor.) The newest accounting for the cost of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher comes just as federal Judge Susan Wigenton blasted the law firm for intentionally failing to keep interview notes related to their Bridgegate investigation because they knew other probes were underway. “The taxpayers of the State of New Jersey paid millions of dollars to conduct a transparent and thorough investigation,” Wigenton wrote. “What they got instead was opacity and gamesmanship. They deserve better.” Christie called the judge’s criticism “much ado about nothing.” It remains to be seen whether Primary voters in the presidential race agree.
S.P. Sullivan, NJ Advance Media, Dec. 11, 2015;Paul Berger, Record, Dec. 17, 2015;Jonathan D. Salant, NJ Advance Media, Dec. 21, 2015
Three Orthodox Jewish rabbis were sentenced to multiple years in prison for conspiring to kidnap Jewish husbands and then using violence (at New Jersey locations) to force the men to consent to religious divorces. Rabbi Mendel Epstein, of Lakewood, was sentenced to 10 years, Rabbi Jay Goldstein of Brooklyn to eight years, and Rabbi Binyamin Stimler to three years and three months. After a series of Jewish men were assaulted, tied up and beaten (one of them shocked with a stun-gun in Lakewood) until agreeing to a divorce, the feds set up a sting operation that caught Epstein arranging to have his team kidnap a husband at a warehouse in Middlesex County in exchange for $60,000, investigators said. Goldstein and Stimler were ready to execute the plan when the feds moved in, according to the charges.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Dec. 15, 16, 2015
A federal judge was unmoved by the tears of Joe Ferriero, the one-time Bergen County Democratic chief who was sentenced to two years and 11 months in jail after a jury convicted him of turning the county’s Democratic organization into a racketeering operation with fraud and bribes. The jury concluded that while head of the Bergen County Democrats from 1998 to 2009, Ferriero accepted bribes for recommending a software developer to public officials in Bergen County, taking one-quarter to one-third of the gross receipts from any contracts resulting from his efforts. Prosecutors said he hid his interest in the public contracts with two shell companies. “The sentence handed down today to Joseph Ferriero is the final result of his running a local political organization as a criminal enterprise,” said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. Ferriero told the judge he didn’t believe he was breaking the law. Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig said all the more reason for jail time. “It’s clear this defendant needs to be deterred because he has no comprehension that what he did was wrong,” she said. Honig added that “politics has become a dirty word” in New Jersey, the Record reported. She said corruption hurts us all by inflating costs and sending the message, “this is how you get ahead.” (Otherwise known as the culture of corruption.)
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Dec. 4, 2015; Peter Sampson, The Record, Dec. 4, 2015
John Grosso, a former corrections officer at the Essex County Correctional Facility, was sentenced to two years in prison after he admitted accepting bribes for smuggling cellphones and cigarettes into the prison. Grosso, of Belleville, pleaded guilty to accepting cash in return for smuggling the items into an inmate. He met the inmate’s relative in Secaucus to get both the contraband and the bribe, prosecutors said.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Dec. 2, 2015
Mob activity is alive and well in the Soprano State. Two associates of the DeCavalcante family, John Capozzi of Union and Mario Galli of Toms River, pleaded guilty to helping distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine. The two were arrested and charged, along with eight members of the DeCavalcante crime family, and admitted teaming with family associates to sell the cocaine to an undercover FBI agent for $78,000. (Check out Chapter 8 for more on New Jersey’s homegrown DeCavalcante family.)
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Dec. 2, 2015
Medical corruption in New Jersey is enough to send chills through patients in the Soprano State. (See Chapter 1 where we tell how New Jersey has the first medical university put under federal supervision.) A Rockaway husband and wife, owners of a mobile diagnostic testing company, pleaded guilty to raking in $4.3 million for tests (ultrasounds, echocardiograms, etc.) that were never read by a physician. Kirtish Patel admitted that from Oct. 2008 to June 2014, he wrote bogus diagnostic reports without a medical license. His wife, Nita Patel, admitted forging physician signatures on the reports. Half the tests were never reviewed by a physician despite being used to diagnose heart defects, blood clots, abdominal aortic aneurysms and other serious conditions, federal investigators said. The Patels each face up to 10 years in jail.
Seth Rehfuss of Somerset has been charged with healthcare fraud after federal investigators said he used the non-profit The Good Samaritans (and the offer of ice cream) to gain access to low-income housing where he convinced seniors they needed genetic testing. Telling seniors their health depended on the testing, he took DNA swabs in community rooms and then used Craigslist to recruit healthcare workers to provide the needed authorization for the samples to go to a lab, the feds said. The healthcare workers were paid thousands of dollars a month to sign requisition forms for patients they never examined, according to the charges. Medicare paid out $1 million for testing related to the scheme, the feds said. Rehfuss and those involved were preparing to take the fraud to eleven other states when investigators moved in, prosecutors said.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Nov. 17 and Dec. 2
New Jersey was the backdrop for this crime. Six New York men have been sentenced to federal prison for planning to use violence to coerce a Jewish husband into granting his wife a religious divorce. The six traveled to a warehouse in New Jersey (Edison) to execute the plan. The glitch: the man they met with and discussed a plan to restrain and threaten the husband was in fact an FBI agent. The goal was to force the husband to give his wife a “get,” the document needed for a Jewish wife to obtain a divorce. David Hellman was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison; Simcha Bulmash and Mosche Goldstein, 4 years. They pleaded guilty to the New Jersey crime and also admitted assaulting and injuring a husband and his roommate in Brooklyn in 2011 in an effort to obtain a “get.” Also sentenced for the New Jersey crime were Avrohom Goldstein (three years and nine months), Ariel Potash (one year and two months), and Sholom Shuchat (time served).
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Nov. 16, 17 and 19
Bloomfield Township Councilman Elias Chalet was arrested and charged with taking a $15,000 bribe in return for promising a businessman that the township would buy his commercial property. Acting Attorney General John Hoffman used Soprano State language to describe the case: “We charge that Chalet crookedly put the authority entrusted to him as an elected official up for sale for his own personal enrichment.” According to the charges, state police were alerted after Chalet told the business owner that the purchase of his property would only happen if the bribe were paid. Chalet is a realtor, and authorities said the bribe, first $10,000 and then $5,000, was paid at his real estate office. The kicker as always: the meetings were recorded, prosecutors said.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Nov. 18, 2015
Former Waldwick Borough cop John Robert Marion pleaded guilty to stealing $321,000 from the state’s pension plan by collecting disability payments while he was working as a cop in Georgia. Working for Waldwick from 1998 to 2008, Marion retired with a medical and stress-related disability in March 2008. While collecting $3,614 a month in disability pension payments, he was employed by several Georgia counties since August 2009, prosecutors said. “He selfishly drained away assets that are needed to pay the legitimate pensions of officers who courageously continue to serve the people of New Jersey,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Nov. 12, 2015
Robert Armstrong of Franklinville was sentenced to four years and nine months in federal prison after pleading guilty to a scam that resulted in schools throughout the nation paying $612,774 for workbooks that didn’t exist. Armstrong sent out 73,000 bogus invoices for workbooks that were never ordered and never received by the schools, the feds said. After typically getting an invoice of $647 for math or language workbooks, schools sent the money to Armstrong’s company with addresses in Las Vegas and Sewell, New Jersey, according to investigators.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Nov. 13, 2015
Once again, we see this. The state charged Linda Miller of Englewood with collecting Social Security benefits for her mother for eight years after her mother died. Miller is charged with stealing $128,131 in Social Security payments that continued to go into her bank account after her mother’s death. In addition, Miller pleaded guilty in New York to continuing to collect her mom’s New York pension after her death. Miller faces up to a year in jail in New York and up to 10 years in jail if convicted in New Jersey.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Nov. 12, 2015
Even in New Jersey, this old-fashioned crime is worthy of note. Sixty-four year old Claude Williams of Elizabeth was sentenced to 22 years in prison for robbing seven New Jersey banks at gunpoint. He was caught trying to rob the eighth bank. Wearing a bandana, hooded sweatshirt and white gloves, he entered the banks with his gun drawn, leaped over the counter and demanded money from the bank tellers, the feds said. Two women admitted to being his getaway drivers. Andrea Dorsey was sentenced to seven years and three months in jail for three heists. Teresa Webb was sentenced to four years and six months for one.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Nov. 16, 2015
Again, it’s one of those only-in-The Soprano State stories. Where else does this happen? Newark Fire Director James Stewart appointed a newly hired payroll clerk Tawan Baxter (his son’s fiancé) as acting director while he is on a week’s vacation. The fire director is the fire department’s top civilian and handles discipline, promotions and policy decisions. Firefighters are not happy. “The rank and file would rather see a qualified person running their fire department for a week,” one member of the department told reporter Dan Ivers of NJ Advance Media. “It’s keeping it in the family.” (Stewart’s son, Anwar Ahbanawa, is an administrator in his dad’s office and has been with the department for 21 years.) A department spokesman said Baxter, who has been at the clerk’s job for three months, is qualified to fill in because she previously worked in insurance and healthcare. In Newark, this is nothing new. Former Newark Fire Director David Giordano used to appoint his secretary as acting director while he was away from the job.
Dan Ivers, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 10, 2015
Under Gov. Christie, New Jersey has tumbled from a B-plus rating on government accountability and transparency to a grade of D, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity. “Most of New Jersey’s decline can be traced to the executive branch, and particularly the governor’s office,” the report said. The state suffered the largest drop in scoring of any state. “People in New Jersey should know more than anyone else when there’s a lack of transparency and a lack of accountability in government,” Nicholas Kusnetz, project manager at the Center for Public Integrity, told Dustin Racioppi of the Record. “Corruption from the basic bribe to the more nuanced abuses of power … that’s why we have records laws and that’s why we have ethics oversight.”(New Jersey joins 35 other states with a D grade. Three had a score of C, and 11 scored an F grade.) New Jersey received a grade of F in public access to information, as the governor’s office waged legal battles with those seeking information. The report also noted that while New Jersey has some of the toughest ethics laws in the country, it falls down on enforcement. (Paula Franzese, professor of law at Seton Hall Law School, noted that under Christie, the State Ethics Commission has “lost its independence and lost its way,” after he replaced its independent executive director with a member of his staff and appointed a friend as chair.) The integrity center dubbed Bridgegate, the closing of Fort Lee lanes on the George Washington Bridge for what the feds have called political punishment for the mayor, as the most “brazen” controversy.
Dustin Racioppi, The Record, Nov. 8, 2015;
Paula A. Franzese, Star-Ledger guest columnist, Nov. 11, 2015
Once again it’s confirmed: New Jersey residents pay the highest property tax bill in the country. Overall, New Jersey is second behind New York City in taxation. And the Soprano State has the worst business climate in the nation. All this comes from the Tax Foundation and a Forbes analysis, which put the local and state tax burden on taxpayers at 12.3 percent. And New Jersey is one of only two states (Maryland) with both an estate tax and an inheritance tax. “It’s the most expensive state to live in and the most expensive state to die in.” Jim Jablonski of Millstone Township told Michael Symons of Gannett New Jersey.
Samantha Marcus, NJ Advance Media, Nov. 2, 2015;
Michael Symons, Gannett New Jersey, Oct. 30, 2015
Now, we are going to give you three examples of why New Jersey ranks at the top on taxes and at the bottom on ethics, open government and accountability. For years we have called it the corruption tax. It’s the amount every New Jersey taxpayer pays for corruption at all levels of government in the Soprano State:
Gerard Pica of Middletown and James Castaldo of Beachwood pleaded guilty to a scheme to extort thousands of dollars in return for approving landfill material for a Hudson County Improvement Authority golf course project. Castaldo ran Renda Enterprises, a company that moved waste and construction materials, and Pica was hired by the authority as an environmental scientist to help select the contractors supplying soil and fill for the golf course. Together, the feds said, they cooked up a scheme in which companies paid a kickback of cash per cubic yard of material dumped at the site.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Nov. 9, 2015
Joseph Lorenzo, a former deli owner from West New York, was indicted and charged with having employees of the North Bergen Department of Public Works do construction and repairs at his North Bergen deli and meat distribution business. State prosecutors said public works employees on duty, and sometimes on overtime, used township equipment to repair Lorenzo’s parking lot (three tons of asphalt), install a guardrail and remove a damaged gate and fence. “The residents of North Bergen don’t pay property taxes so that township workers, vehicles and equipment can be used to perform favors for people who have the right connections,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman. (In this case, prosecutors said they did.) Hoffman already convicted three North Bergen public works supervisors of using municipal employees for work on election campaigns and on personal projects for themselves or their boss. James Wiley pleaded guilty in the scheme. Troy Bunero and Francis Longo were convicted at trial.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Oct. 30, 2015
Washington Borgono, a compliance officer with the Union City Community Development Agency, was indicted and charged with costing taxpayers $250,000 in federal funds by manipulating the awarding of contracts for residential rehabs and sidewalks. Borgono is accused of conspiring with another agency inspector and several contractors to put together fake bids to rig the selection process for contractors. Higher bids were faked and lower bids tossed, prosecutors said, to make sure certain contractors received the bids.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Oct. 29, 2015
Voters looking to cast their ballots for a sheriff who doesn’t double-dip on salary will be hard pressed to find one, particularly in Camden and Gloucester counties. A joint investigation by NBC 10 and New Jersey Watchdog found sheriffs in 16 of the state’s 21 counties are double-dippers. That means they are collecting a public employee pension at the same time they are collecting a public employee salary. It’s a tradition in the Soprano State that’s busting taxpayers’ backs and crunching the state’s pension fund. In Camden County, the double-dipping is assured. Democratic candidate Assemblyman Gilbert “Whip” Wilson would collect $144,753 in sheriff’s salary plus a Camden police pension of $55,383 and an assembly pension of $8,800, NBC and NJ Watchdog reported. The Republican candidate, Lewis Hannon, would collect the sheriff’s salary plus his $70,973 Camden police pension. In Essex County, New Jersey Watchdog found this worst-case scenario: Democrat Sheriff Armando Fontoura earns a salary of $144,896 plus a pension of $62,393 because he retired from the sheriff’s office under a different job title. He has been “retired” as a county undersheriff for 25 years, collecting $1.3 million in retirement payments while working full time for the sheriff’s office. This is what Fontoura told NJ Watchdog’s Mark Lagerkvist last August: “No question about it, it looks bad. Was it legal? Yes.” His opponent, Republican Antonio Pires, would not be a double-dipper, but is unlikely to win in the Democratic area. Flontoura told the Star-Ledger editorial board that he now supports efforts to end double-dipping. A bill co-sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Red Bank, would make it illegal. Because Democrats and Republicans alike, including lawmakers, benefit from the system, the law is going nowhere. Taxpayers are the losers.
Mark Lagerkvist, New Jersey Watchdog, Aug. 30 & Oct. 26, 2015; Mitch Blacher, NBC 10, Oct. 27, 2015; Editorial Board, Star-Ledger, Sept. 9, 2015
The former executive director of the Jersey City Child Development Centers, an agency charged with helping poor kids through early childhood development services and education, has been arrested and charged with stealing $200,000 in federal funds from the centers. Federal investigators accuse Robert Mays, 38, of Jersey City, (who was only on the job for eight months) of quickly increasing his salary from $96,500 to $155,000 and of withdrawing funds from the agency’s bank accounts without authorization. The feds said he used the money intended for poor children to buy a 2007 Maserati Quattroporte and a fur coat, among other things. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
U.S Attorney Paul Fishman, Oct. 22, 2015
Eight lawyers, all partners in the law firm of Schwartz, Simon, Edelstein & Celso, have been accused by the Election Law Enforcement Commission of reimbursing their associate attorneys for political contributions. (It is illegal in New Jersey to make a campaign donation in the name of another person.) The commission charges that the partners funneled $8,000 to state and local candidates and committees by using associates as the contributors, instead of themselves. Hundreds of dollars in contributions went to school organizations. While the firm is not accused of violating the state’s pay-to-play laws, research by NJ Advance Media showed the law firm represented more than 80 school districts and school boards. Four of the accused attorneys also served on Gov. Christie’s transition team in 2009.
Samantha Marcus, NJ Advance Media, Oct. 22, 2015
As a caseworker for Atlantic County’s Adult Protective Services, William Price was supposed to be helping the elderly, but instead, according to state prosecutors, he stole $125,000 from an elderly couple he met through his job. He pleaded guilty to theft by deception and was sentenced to five years in prison. Price was indicted along with five others, including Jan Van Holt, owner of a company offering in-home care and financial planning for the elderly, and her sister, Sondra Steen, who helped run the company. Van Holt, Steen and Barbara Lieberman, a lawyer specializing in elder law, are accused of stealing more than $2.7 million from 12 elderly clients. Price worked with Van Holt at Adult Protective Services, and after befriending the couple, he recruited them as clients for Van Holt, Steen and Lieberman, who stole a total of $800,000 from the couple. Price’s share was the $125,000. (Charges are pending against Van Holt and Steen. Lieberman pleaded guilty to money laundering and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.)
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Oct. 23, 2015
The former treasurer of the Hudson County Department of Corrections Police Benevolent Association Local 109A, Noel Conyers, of Maplewood, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 364 days in county jail for embezzling $74,887 from the union. State investigators said Conyers took money from the union account and used it for clothing, dining, liquor, Direct TV, golf equipment and college tuition payments.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Oct. 2, 2015
Questionable land deals related to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority are nothing new. You can check it out in chapters 7, 8 and 9 of The Soprano State. But this time, a sting operation nabbed a South Jersey man trying to bribe an authority official. After a four-day trial, a jury convicted Anthony Christaldi of bribery. Christaldi wasn’t very subtle in his methods. Even for New Jersey, it was over the top. Here is what state prosecutors said happened: Christaldi contacted CRDA about selling his Atlantic Avenue property for $157,500. When the agency said no, he offered to sell for $75,000, but tried to sweeten the pot. He submitted the paperwork along with $1,000 and a note saying that if the price rose to $105,000 ($30 a square foot), he would add $9,000 to the bribe and if the price rose to $40 a square foot, he would up the bribe to $15,000. A CRDA official contacted state prosecutors, who arranged for an undercover cop to meet with Christaldi. True to his word, he met a man he believed to be the brother of a CRDA official in a convenience store and, in Soprano State style, delivered $9,000 cash, investigators said.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Oct. 9, 2015
It’s not that often that you see a major newspaper call any state’s governor a liar. Even in New Jersey. But here it is: the Star-Ledger Editorial Board says Chris Christie “lies like the rest of us brush our teeth, as a matter of routine.” Sounds like they have had enough. Two things brought them to that conclusion. While spending more than half his time out of state campaigning for president, Christie accused the state Assembly of not doing enough work while there are an estimated 72 bills waiting on the governor’s desk for his action. And while Christie likes to claim that he closed a $13 billion deficit during his first six months in office (a great sound bite for the national campaign trail), the calculation is a sleight of the hand based on numbers the Office of Legislative Services puts out every year estimating the cost of funding everything, something that never happens. The shortfall between funding everything and the state budget reality has remained at $10 billion since Christie became governor, the Ledger pointed out. In fact, this year’s state budget is 8 percent higher than when he took office.
Editorial Board, Star-Ledger, Oct. 7, 2015
Even for New Jersey, state police said this plot was disturbing. The brutal murder-for-hire scheme was agreed to last year at the Phillipsburg Mall, and now the woman making the deal has pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Denise Marie Nagrodski, of Easton, PA, just across the river from Phillipsburg, wanted her daughter’s ex-boyfriend burned alive, and as for his sister and her boyfriend, she wanted their heads bashed in and their home in Somerset County burned, prosecutors said. Nagrodski was looking for revenge because she believed the boyfriend was abusive and she claimed he caused her daughter to miscarry twins, according to investigators. New York authorities alerted New Jersey state police that Nagrodski was looking for a hit man, and state police sent in an undercover cop who recorded his conversations with Nagrodski, prosecutors said.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Oct. 16, 2015
In connection with a bribery scheme that cost Union County $120,000, Aniello Palmieri, former director of Union County’s division of facilities management, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years and 10 months in jail. Investigators said Frank Donald Vicendese, owner of Viva Group, submitted bogus invoices to the county through Palmieri for hardware, which the county never received. Instead, Vicendese gave Palmieri, cash, gift cards, a physical fitness machine, a camcorder and a digital camera. Vicendese, who also pleaded guilty to fraud, has not yet been sentenced. But another vendor, Richard Greer of Positive Attitude LLC, a cleaning supply business, pleaded guilty to a similar scheme with Palmieri and was sentenced to two years and seven months in jail. Those deals also cost the county $120,000, investigators said. Prosecutors said Greer paid Palmieri $500 a month and in turn submitted bogus invoices to cover the money paid to Palmieri, plus a profit for himself.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Oct. 7 and 8, 2015
A former senior payroll clerk with the state Department of Human Services, Laquanda Tate, pleaded guilty to using her state computer to make fake motor vehicle insurance cards for herself and to sell to others. She also admitted creating false documents to get public assistance benefits (food stamps and rental assistance) for bogus childcare expenses.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Oct. 5, 2015
The chilling tale of money exchanged for medical testing referrals continues. Egg Harbor neurologist Syed Jaffery was indicted and charged with taking $195,000 in bribes in exchange for patient referrals for MRIs and CT scans to Diagnostic Imaging Services of South Jersey.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Sept. 29, 2015
Keeping New Jersey in the news, former Pro Bowl NFL wide receiver Irving Fryar, now pastor of a church in Burlington County, was sentenced to five years in state prison after Fryar and his mom were convicted of stealing more than $1.2 million in home equity loans. Fryar’s mom, Allene McGhee, was sentenced to three years probation.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Oct. 2, 2015
Jamie Fox is out as the state’s transportation chief. Always the advisor behind the scenes when people in power were under scrutiny (chapters 2 and 7), Fox is now on his own hot seat. He’s worked in key spots for high-ranking Democrats (Jim McGreevey and Bob Torricelli) and Republicans (Chris Christie), and has worn a lot of hats. His recent switch from Port Authority executive, to United Airlines lobbyist, to state transportation chief and chairman of the authority running the Atlantic City airport is at the heart of his current problems. Federal investigators are looking into whether United reinstated a flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to the airport near Port Authority Chairman David Samson’s South Carolina home in exchange for improvements the airline wanted at the Newark airport, the New York Times has reported. (Fox was the airline’s lobbyist at the time and a close friend of Samson.) A month after leaving his lobbyist job to become New Jersey’s transportation chief and head of the South Jersey Transportation Authority, Fox attended a meeting that resulted in the authority deciding to forgive a $104,000 penalty to United for abruptly ending flight service at the Atlantic City airport, the Record reported. As if that wasn’t enough, Matt Katz of The Christie Tracker (WNYC Public Radio) reported that Fox tried to get Democratic lawmakers to back away from the legislative investigation into lane closures at the George Washington Bridge. Federal prosecutors have indicted two in the case, charging the closure was political punishment for the Fort Lee mayor who did not endorsed Christie’s re-election bid. Port Authority official David Wildstein pleaded guilty.
Matt Katz, The Christie Tracker, WNYC.org, Sept. 28, 2015; David Porter, Josh Cornfield, Michael Catalini and Rhonda Shafner, Associated Press, Sept. 28, 2015; Shawn Boburg and Dustin Racioppi, Record, Oct. 2, 2015; Shawn Boburg, Record, Sept. 28, 2015
The Lucchese bosses took their own hits this month. A New Jersey judge sentenced Matthew Madonna, identified by the feds as a member of the three-man ruling panel of the New York-based Lucchese crime family, to jail for five years and sentenced Martin Taccetta, identified as a former New Jersey underboss for the Lucchese crime family, to eight years in jail for racketeering. (Taccetta is already serving a life sentence plus 10 years in prison. He is the brother of Michael Taccetta, considered by some to be the model for the fictional Tony Soprano.) State prosecutors busted the Lucchese gambling operation they said handled $2.2 billion in international wagers, mostly on sporting events. The wagers were made through websites and recorded and tabulated at a Costa Rican wire room, while collections were made the old-fashioned way with threats and violence, investigators said.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Oct. 1, 2015
Jersey City seems to be constantly in the news for its Soprano State hires. The woman indicted with former Newark Mayor Sharpe James is now on the Jersey City public payroll, according to the Jersey Journal. Tamika McReynolds (then Tamika Riley), convicted of fraud and sentenced to 15 months in jail, is working for the Jersey City recreation department, the Jersey Journal reported. A jury convicted Riley, identified as the one-time mistress of James, of preferential treatment after she bought nine city lots for $46,000 and resold them for $665,000. She also was found guilty of tax evasion and lying about her income to collect housing subsidies. She is now married to the pastor at Mount Olive Baptist Church and her part-time job with the city involves putting together children’s programs for a salary of $15 an hour, according to city spokesman Ryan Jacobs who told the Jersey Journal that McReynolds’ background check came back “without any issue.” The Jersey Journal reported another hire at the recreation department cost its director Ryan Strother his job. Strother was fired after city officials said he hired a registered sex offender and failed to fire him when it was discovered. Jersey City also has former Gov. Jim McGreevey ($115,000 a year) running an employment and training program for prisoners after they are released. McGreevey in turn hired Eugene McKnight ($75,000 a year), who in 1992 pleaded guilty to racketeering and tampering with evidence charges in connection with a welfare scam that cost taxpayers $4.2 million and cost him a nine-year prison sentence. As director of Jersey City’s human resources department, McKnight approved rental assistance and welfare checks for friends and employees who kicked back half the money to him, prosecutors said.
Terrence T. McDonald, Jersey Journal, Sept. 14, Sept. 17, Aug. 31, 2015 and Feb. 15, 2014; Jeff S. Whelan, July 29, 2008
Just when you think you’ve heard it all about Jersey City hires, here comes a story about the trash inspector whose attempt to cite a construction worker led to police chase when the suspect decided to flee through a couple of Jersey City homes. Turns out the inspector with the Jersey City Incinerator Authority is former Jersey City Mayor Gerry McCann. McCann was booted out of office in 1992 after his fraud conviction in connection with a savings and loan scam related to a marina development. (McCann was found guilty of 15 counts of fraud and income tax evasion. Then U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Michael Chertoff said McCann spent the $260,000 intended for the marina project on a Mercedes, furs, jewelry and tickets to sports events, New York Times reporter Joe Sullivan reported. It also should be noted that McCann, who maintains that he was innocent, served on the Jersey City School Board since then.)The trash authority has made lots of news of late. Four authority workers were arrested in July for allegedly taking money for allowing construction debris to be mixed with city trash. And a bar owner made news when he complained that a sanitation worker wanted free drinks for himself and his buddies, or the trash wouldn’t get picked up.
Terrence T. McDonald, Jersey Journal, Sept. 29, Aug. 29 and Sept. 2, 2015; Joseph Sullivan, New York Times, Dec. 18, 1991; Melissa Hayes, Jersey Journal, April 22, 2010
The Essex County prosecutor is looking into allegations that a priest at St. Rose of Lima Church in Short Hills took more than $250,000 in cash and gifts from “grandmas” in the wealthy parish, Mark Mueller of nj.com reported. Before ordination in the Newark Archdiocese, Rev. Alex Orozco was a TV actor, model and salsa dancer in Bogota, according to a 2012 Youtube video where he talks about his path to the priesthood. He also spent ten years in a religious order in Columbia, he said. Mueller reported that once Orozco was in Short Hills, he was willing to accept money from parishioners: “For a car. For a big-screen TV. For a house in the Poconos. For another house in his native Colombia. For credit card bills. For a second car. For plane tickets. For Furniture. For dental work.” Rev. John Dietrich of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, told nj.com: “People do want to give priests gifts, but they should be limited to things like scarves and gloves.”
Mark Mueller, NJ Advance Media for nj.com, Oct 1, 2015
Just when you thought Jim McGreevey and his shenanigans were gone, here he is again. This time, he did a four-month maneuver on the Hudson County payroll to complete the 25 years of state service that he needed for taxpayers to foot the bill for his health care for life. He didn’t have enough time to qualify, even after his stint with Kean University as an ethics professor. (Again, we are not making this up.) He is working for Jersey City’s prisoner re-entry program, but that didn’t qualify. So what happened? For just the four months needed, he was put on the payroll in Hudson County, and then he quit. An editorial in the New York Post said it best: “Hudson County just lived down to its rep as the New Jersey of New Jersey, giving lifetime health benefits to a Garden State poster boy of corruption for just four months on the county payroll.” The Post noted that McGreevey’s term as governor was “packed with scandals.” He resigned as governor in 2004 after announcing that he had an extramarital affair with a man identified as the unqualified Israeli he had hired as the state’s security advisor.
Terrence T. McDonald, Jersey Journal, Sept. 17, 2015; Editorial Board, New York Post, Sept. 20, 2015; Editorial Board, Star-Ledger, Sept. 23, 2015
Another McGreevey associate (his former attorney general) David Samson, has been implicated in the resignation of United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek and two senior officials with the airline. The New York Times reported that the three resigned in the wake of a federal probe into whether Samson traded favors with the airline while he was chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, an appointment made by Gov. Christie. The feds are investigating whether United reinstated a flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to the airport near Samson’s South Carolina home in exchange for improvements the airline wanted at the Newark airport, the NYT reported.
Kate Zernike and Jad Mouawad, New York Times, Sept. 8, 2015
The New Jersey National Guard is living up to the Soprano State’s reputation. The first person Gov. Christie appointed to head the Guard, Army Maj. Gen. Glenn Rieth, was forced to resign because of an affair. The second, Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael Cunniff, has been reprimanded for the size of his waistline and for repeatedly avoiding physical-fitness tests, the Washington Post reported. Whistleblower complaints, filed by high-ranking officers, allege cronyism, racism and a “toxic” climate among the Guard’s leadership, the Post said. “It’s like the mob,” Brian Scully, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, told the Post. “One minute you’re the made man. The next, you get a bullet in the back of your head. Only here it’s career assassination.”
Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, Sept. 21, 2015
Once again, nothing seems to change in the Soprano State. Passaic Assemblyman Gary Schaer intends to investigate why the company running the state lottery isn’t living up to its contract. (Lottery money returned to the state is the lowest it has been in forty years.) The company, Northstar, put in the only bid for the state contract, awarded in 2013, and spent about a half million dollars on lobbying firms headed by those allied with Gov. Christie, the Record reported. (GTECH, part of the Northstar venture, spent $180,000 in 2012 for lobbying by David Samson’s law firm.) For a similar scenario, check out The Soprano State, Chapter 2, the section on the state’s auto emissions testing contract given to a lone bidder whose equipment wouldn’t work in New Jersey’s winter weather.
Dustin Racioppi, Record, Sept. 22, 2015; Michael Linhorst, Record, April 12, 2013
Tom Moran of the Star-Ledger editorial board says he feels the need to take a shower after covering NJ pols. We know the feeling. Moran laid out the reasons why the Election Law Enforcement Commission can’t prosecute Essex County’s Joe DiVincenzo for the way he has used his campaign money. (ELEC accused DiVincenzo of misusing more than $16,000 in campaign funds and of failure to disclose nearly $72,000 in campaign spending, including airfare, hotels and food for two trips to Puerto Rico. He described the trips as political retreats.) An administrative law judge has recommended that the charges be dropped because he said ELEC did not have a quorum to file the complaint. ELEC has four seats, two from each political party. But Gov. Christie, a Republican pal to Democrat DiVincenzo, has left one of the two Democratic seats vacant, and the other Democratic member has recused himself from the case. “Over the last five years, he (Christie) hasn’t submitted a single name to fill the vacant Democratic seat,” Moran reported. And that’s why Moran, understandably, felt the need for a shower. So do we.
Tom Moran, Star-Ledger, Sept. 20, 2015; Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 17, 2015
Not only do New Jersey residents have to put up with corruption, they also have to put up with the highest debt burden in the United States. Truth in Accounting reported New Jersey had the highest debt in 2014, $52,300 for each resident. The amount is up from $36,000 in 2013 because of unfunded pension liabilities. The report noted the state’s own actuaries estimate that the pension system, if nothing changes, will go broke.
Paul Milo, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 21, 2015
Former Assemblyman Robert Schroeder faces trial in March on charges that he wrote bad checks, New Jersey style. He is charged with writing $3.4 million worth of bad checks (47 checks to 12 people who loaned him money and two companies that provided him with goods or services). He also is charged with stealing $1.9 million from five people who loaned him money for a housing venture at a drilling site in North Dakota. State prosecutors allege he used the money for himself and other debts.
Dave Hutchinson, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 25, 2015
Just in case you think no one serves time in New Jersey, here is a litany of those who are going to jail:
William Talerico, an NJ Transit employee, was sentenced to three years in federal prison. Talerico pleaded guilty after federal prosecutors charged him with taking $70,000 from vendors in exchange for getting them work with NJ Transit.
Kirk Eady, deputy director of the Hudson County Correctional Facility, was sentenced to a year and nine months in federal prison. After a four-day trial, Eady was found guilty of illegally wiretapping his co-workers and another person who were critical of his job performance.
Eugene Spiegel, the former chief of the Seaville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, was sentenced to five years in state prison. He pleaded guilty to filing fraudulent invoices to steal $46,000 from the fire company.
Michael Petrella, former treasurer of the Seaville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, was sentenced to 364 days in county jail. He pleaded guilty to stealing $19,000 from the fire company. He used the funds to reimburse himself for beer, diapers and other personal items, prosecutors said.
Mark Sanzo of Bayonne was sentenced to a year and three months in federal prison and Robert Scerbo, also of Bayonne, was sentenced to a year and seven months in prison after they pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy. Federal prosecutors said the two were part of an illegal online sports betting operation.
U.S Attorney Paul Fishman, Sept. 8, 10, 11, 18, 2015; Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Sept. 14, 25, 2015; Samantha Marcus, NJ Advance Media, Sept. 25, 2015
It’s the kind of story that keeps the Soprano State in the news: a sanitation worker who won’t pick up trash at a bar unless he and his buddies get free drinks. Wolf Sterling, owner of The Pint in Jersey City, told CBS2 reporter Tracee Carrasco: “The guy was so blatant, and he seemed to think in this day and age that he wouldn’t get caught.” Yep, that’s the Soprano State. Sterling claims that a man with the Jersey City Incinerator Authority’s contractor Regional Industries told a bar employee that the trash would no longer be picked up unless bribes (in the form of liquor) were paid. When Sterling tried to complain to the Authority, he said he was told that a complaint would only get him a visit from city inspectors. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop’s representative told CBS that the mayor is looking to shut down that Authority “after a long history of corruption.” Authority workers were arrested in July for allegedly taking money for allowing construction debris to be mixed with city trash. The Jersey Journal, which broke the story, reported that police were investigating. CBS2 reported that the accused sanitation worker has been fired.
Tracee Carrasco, CBS2 New York, Sept. 1 and 2, 2015; Terrence T. McDonald, Jersey Journal, Aug. 29 and Sept. 2, 2015
A former assistant division administrator with the Federal Highway Administration, Lawrence Cullari Jr., was sentenced to a year and nine months in jail for helping himself to federal grant money. Cullari pleaded guilty to wire fraud after the feds said he helped steer federal money to an engineering firm owned by his former father-in-law. The engineering firm was really just a “straw company,” which kept a portion of the money and gave the rest to a company controlled by Cullari, the feds said.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Sept. 2, 2105
Craig Snediker, former treasurer of the North Brunswick Volunteer Fire Department No. 3, admitted embezzling between $89,000 and $92,986 from the fire department. The feds said Snediker, who was able to deposit and withdraw money from the department accounts (public funds and private donations), used ATM machines to help himself to the money.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Sept 2, 2015
Three advocacy groups, New Jersey Working Families, BlueWaveNJ and New Jersey Citizen Action, have filed suit against Gov. Christie. They want him to repay taxpayers for the money spent on his security when he is campaigning for president. Unlike Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose campaign is reimbursing his state, Christie is balking at the idea. He said he is doing what past NJ governors have done and his trooper protection is mandatory. Since he was elected, taxpayers have paid $1.43 million for Christie’s travel-related security, the Record reported. For the first six months of this year, before he declared himself a presidential candidate, the cost was $273,516, the Record reported from an Open Public Records Act request.
Melissa Hayes, Record, Aug. 21 and Aug. 28, 2015; Associated Press, Aug. 21, 2015
Everyone, including Time, USA Today, the New York Post, and the networks, picked up the Associated Press story about the New Jersey teacher who was late for work 111 times in the last two years and still kept his $90,000-a-year job. Arnold Anderson said he was late for school, but never late for class. The arbitrator who rejected his firing said the school was at fault for not providing “progressive discipline.” As if that wasn’t enough fodder for the national media, Anderson blamed his lateness on eating breakfast and said he will cut it out in the future. He also claimed his good teaching made up for being late.
Associated Press, August 28, 2015
The summer heat must be getting to some Soprano State pols. The Press of Atlantic City reported this incident at the Atlantic/Cape May County AFL-CIO fundraiser at The Playground in Atlantic City: “Union President Roy Foster confirmed that first there was an incident involving Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo and four members of Ironworkers Local 350, and that later in the night, a fight broke out. Foster said former Atlantic City Mayor Scott Evans was hit by a punch intended for someone else.” Then there was the nj.com report that said: “Thursday’s Trenton City Council meeting ended in shouting, pushing and shoving, as Council President Zachary Chester and Councilman George Muschal nearly came to blows and had to be held back by their colleagues.” Before the altercation, there was a mention of the $3,000 fine Chester’s aide Crystal Feliciano, a supervising auditor with the state comptroller, agreed to pay the State Ethics Commission for doing political work on state time, the Trentonian reported.
Christian Hetrick, Press of Atlantic City, Aug. 17, 2015; Cristina Rojas, NJ.com, Aug. 20, 2015; Jackie Schear, Trentonian, Aug. 20, 2015
Former Marlboro Mayor Matthew Scannapieco, who made his way into two chapters of The Soprano State for paying $245,000 in bribes, has pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a child and rape, the Asbury Park Press reported. According to the Delaware Department of Justice, Scannapieco pleaded guilty to the rape charge after the mother of the victim reported the crime to police. Scannapieco told police he had sexual contact with the victim between 50 and 60 times from 2006 to 2008. Scannapieco, 71, mayor from 1992 to 2003, served 21 months in jail after pleading guilty in 2005 to bribery and tax evasion charges. He was helping authorities with other corruption investigations and was not sentenced until 2008.
Karen Yi, Asbury Park Press, Aug. 12, 2015
A former Brick councilman running for a council seat this year, Daniel Toth, was arrested and charged with criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child. According to the criminal complaint, a 15-year-old boy accused Toth of touching the boy’s genitals. Toth has called the charges false and baseless. He works for Ocean County as a garage attendant and has been suspended without pay. Politickernj.com described Toth as a protégé of former Sen. Andrew Ciesla who was serving as campaign manager for a GOP ticket in Brick headed by Toth and aimed at taking a majority of the seven council seats, all held by Democrats.
Amanda Oglesby and Karen Yi, Asbury Park Press, Aug. 12, 2015; Amanda Oglesby, Aug. 13, 2015; Max Pizarro, Politickernj.com, Aug. 13, 2015
Anthony Stango, an associate of the DeCavalcante (Chapter Eight) crime family and one of 10 arrested in March by the feds, pleaded guilty to distributing cocaine, running a prostitution operation and possessing a 12 gauge shotgun, something illegal for a convicted felon. The feds have accused the crime family of fraud, distribution of controlled substances, prostitution, gambling, the sale of stolen goods, murder, assault, extortion and other crimes of violence. Based in Elizabeth, it is the only crime family indigenous to New Jersey.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Aug. 19, 2015
Two aides with the North Bergen Department of Parks and Recreation, Abraham Garcia and Walter Somick, have been indicted and charged with filing fake timesheets for work they never did. Both had other jobs. Garcia is a supervisor of security at the North Bergen Board of Education and assistant football coach at the North Bergen High School. Somick is a union electrician. Garcia was paid about $1,000 while Somick was paid about $1,400 every two weeks. State investigators say they found 130 hours for Garcia and 110 hours for Somick when they claimed to be working and instead were at home doing personal stuff like socializing or running errands.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Aug. 4, 2015
Former Pro Bowl NFL wide receiver Irving Fryar, who lives in Springfield, NJ, and played for the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles and is the founder and pastor of the New Jerusalem House of God in Mount Holly, was convicted along with his mother of conspiring to steal more than $1.2 million in bank loans. A Burlington County jury convicted Fryar and Allene McGhee, 74, after a three-week trial. State investigators, assisted by the FBI, said Fryar and his mom conspired to apply for six home equity loans on her Willingboro home and deceived each of the banks by failing to disclose the other loans. By falsely claiming she earned thousands of dollars as an event coordinator for Fryar’s church, McGhee and Fryar also conspired to obtain a mortgage on the home where Fryar lives.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Aug. 7, 2015; Politicker Staff, Politickernj.com, Aug. 7, 2015
Lucchese mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo (the younger one who is 50) is going to the federal slammer for 30 years. He will be an old man when he gets out. (His imprisoned father, Nicodemo D. Scarfo, is the former boss of the Philadelphia mob family.) When Joey Merlino won control in Philadelphia, the younger Scarfo worked with the Lucchese crime family in South Jersey, according to federal prosecutor Steven D’Aguanno who said Scarfo “Jr.” took a blood oath of loyalty to the Mafia and believes the criminal justice system is a joke. After a six-month trial in federal court in Camden, the younger Scarfo was convicted of racketeering conspiracy, as well as securities, wire, bank and mail fraud, extortion, money laundering and obstruction of justice. And that’s no joke. Prosecutors said Scarfo and others took control of a Texas financial group, funneled $12 million to themselves, and spent the money on a yacht, a luxury home, a Bentley and jewelry. “Nicodemo Scarfo and his associates tried to take La Cosa Nostra corporate, using traditional, strong-arm mob tactics to take over a publicly traded company and loot it like a personal piggy bank,” said Prosecutor Leslie Caldwell. In addition to the sentence, Scarfo was ordered to pay $14 million in restitution. Five others, including Scarfo’s wife, pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy. Three others were convicted with Scarfo: Salvatore Pelullo, an associate of the Philadelphia and Lucchese crime families, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. William Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years, and John Maxwell to 10.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, July 28, 29 and 30, 2015; Barbara Boyer, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 28, 2015
Judges were busy this month sentencing a number of other Soprano State criminals to federal and state prison:
Joseph Graziano, owner of the website used for an illegal sports betting conspiracy with the Genovese crime family, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. The Costa Rica-based website was used for illegal online betting on sporting events. Graziano pleaded guilty.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, July 28, 2015
Donna Doremus, of Hopewell, was sentenced to three years and one month in federal prison after pleading guilty to paying $671,000 in bribes in exchange for $6 million in construction contracts. Doremus paid the bribes to a supervisory engineer in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs who awarded the contracts to her companies.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, July 13, 2015
Gaudner Metellus, a former senior engineer for the NJ Department of Transportation, was sentenced to three years in state prison for soliciting a railroad company to inflate the cost of a project by $700,000 in exchange for $325,000 in bribes. Metellus tried to get the company to submit false invoices for work that would never be done, and in return, he would split the state grant money with the firm. The problem for Metellus began when a company official secretly audiotaped a meeting with Metellus and contacted state prosecutors.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, July 13, 2015
Anthony DelPiano, a Monmouth Junction doctor, was sentenced to a year and nine months in jail for accepting bribes in exchange for medical test referrals. In return for $189,175 in bribes, DelPiano referred at least $1.7 million in blood tests to Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services, prosecutors said. He is the 38th person, including 26 doctors, to plead guilty in the multi-million dollar scam.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, July 22, 2015
Harish Bhanderi and Alkesh Desai, supervisors with the NJ Department of Transportation, were sentenced to 364 days in jail for turning in fake time sheets in order to steal thousands of dollars in overtime pay. The two turned in timesheets showing they responded to after-hours roadway emergencies when they were only driving by sites where emergencies had happened days or weeks earlier. Prosecutors said Bhanderi submitted more than 100 false time sheets worth $19,905; Desai submitted 71, worth $14,882. Desai also used a state car to make 96 personal trips to Philadelphia, sometimes twice a day, to take his daughter to and from college, according to prosecutors. Both pleaded guilty.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, July 24, 2015
The Paterson Press called suspended Paterson cop Manuel Avila the potential $2 million man. That’s how much taxpayers may pay when all is said and done. The Paterson Press tells the tale: Avila has spent the last eight years on paid ($800,000) leave after he was suspended for the duration of his disciplinary process. Things are close to being resolved, and Avila is headed toward compensation [$70,000) for unused sick and vacation time while he was on suspension. His retirement will likely include pension payments and health benefits for life. The sad story for taxpayers goes back to 2007. After a psychiatrist hired by the city said Avila was unfit to carry a weapon, the police department, in order for Avila to reach the 20 years of duty he needed for a pension, assigned him to the holding cell area of the police department. After his assignment there, he was charged with forcing a female prisoner to perform oral sex on him. He was acquitted of the criminal charges in 2010, but in 2011, the city settled a civil suit with the woman [$710,000]. His city- paid legal fees for the criminal, civil, and disciplinary proceeds piled up ($300,000). According to published reports, the disciplinary process was slowed by difficulties in finding Avila’s accuser and his lawyer’s medical issues. City Council President William McKoy called it “unfortunate and unfair to taxpayers,” and that about sums it up.
Joe Malinconico, Paterson Press, July 6, 2015; Grayson Quay, New Jersey Watchdog, July 8, 2015
After a seven-week trial, a Hudson County jury convicted two supervisors at the North Bergen Township Public Works Department of assigning municipal employees to work on election campaigns and personal projects for themselves and their boss. Troy Bunero and Francis “Frank” Longo were convicted after public works superintendent James Wiley pleaded guilty three years ago to assigning municipal employees to housecleaning, yard work and other projects at his home. Bunero and Longo were convicted of working on election campaigns and assigning workers to do the same for mayoral races in Bayonne and Jersey City and a Jersey City campaign for sheriff. Investigators said the two assigned workers to projects that included renovations at Bunero’s home and the painting of Longo’s pickup truck. Bunero earned $69,000 a year and Longo $79,000 in their municipal jobs. But as is often the case in New Jersey, that apparently wasn’t enough. The two have been suspended without pay.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, June 30, 2015
A Veterans Affairs official, supervisory engineer Jarod Machinga, was sentenced to three years and 10 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to accepting more than $1.2 million in kickbacks for VA contracts awarded to certain companies. Investigators said Machinga directed more than $6 million in construction projects to pet companies. A Hopewell woman, Donna Doremus, previously pleaded guilty to paying more than $600,000 in bribes to Machinga in return of contracts that she purportedly qualified for by falsely claiming that one of her companies was owned by a disabled veteran. Machinga also admitted that for many of the projects he recruited other contractors to perform the work so that the companies paying the bribes were able to keep the money paid to them without the expense of doing the work.
U.S Attorney Paul Fishman, June 30, 2015; June 10, 2014
A Hudson County contractor, Stanley Parzych, pleaded guilty to rigging the process for selecting contractors for sidewalk and other residential rehab projects run by the Union City Community Development Agency. Parzych admitted conspiring with another contractor to submit false and misleading proposals for the projects. Johnny Graces, an inspector with the development agency, earlier pleaded guilty to the conspiracy to rig the contracts, a scheme that cost $400,000 in federal funding.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 30, 2015 and March 31, 2015
A North Bergen contractor thought he found a way to wipe away $8 million in fire code violations at his property in West New York. Instead, Victor Coca faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. He admitted paying cash bribes to a West New York fire official to eliminate fines on his own building and a building owned by a friend. The feds said Coca paid $2,000 to the fire official to drop the $14,500 in fines on his friend’s building and a $5,000 bribe for reducing the fines on his own building from $8.7 million to $5,000. Coca’s lawyer originally called the charges ridiculous. But investigators had video surveillance showing cash being handed to the fire official, investigators said.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 30, 2015 and May 20, 2014; Thomas Zambito, Star-Ledger, May 20, 2014
A Pennsylvania contractor working on a project at the Ft. Dix military base was sentenced to seven years and a month in federal prison for Soprano State like behavior. Leonard Santos, owner of Sands Mechanical Inc., pleaded guilty to forcing his workers to kickback portions of their salary. And when a site manager was critical of the company’s work, Santos and others had his truck torched in front of his residence at 4 in the morning. When that didn’t scare off the site manager, Santos admitted offering $5,000 for someone to incapacitate the manager. The person hired by Richard Cottone, Santos’ son-in-law, ran down the site manager with a car while he was riding his bike and caused serious injuries, investigators said. Cottone was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 30, 2015; May 20, 2015
The convictions of doctors who took bribes for referring patients for lab tests never ceases to amaze. Thirty-eight people, 26 of them doctors, have pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme involving Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services of Parsippany. Those accused have admitted to millions of dollars in bribes resulting in more than $100 million in payments from Medicare and other insurance companies to BLS. Frank Santangelo, a Morris County doctor, was sentenced to five years and three months in prison for accepting $1.8 million in bribes. Text messages between Santangelo and a top official with BLS showed he ordered unnecessary tests to boost his bribe money, investigators said. Douglas Bienstock, who practiced in Hawthorne, was sentenced to three years and one month in prison. He admitted being paid more than $2,500 a month under a bogus contract in return for referrals for patient blood work. “Physicians who accept kickbacks in exchange for patient referrals and ordering medically unnecessary blood tests undermine the public’s faith in the medical profession and the financial stability of Medicare,” said Special Agent in Charge Scott Lamper, Office of Inspector General with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, after Santangelo’s sentencing.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, July 8, 2015 and June 23, 2015
We like to keep you updated on Soprano State scams involving wildlife. A Jersey City man pleaded guilty to illegal trafficking in turtles. Patrick Elfers admitted that for more than two years he kept protected spotted turtles, North American wood turtles and Eastern box turtles at his home in Jersey City without the required permits. He advertised their sale on wildlife trade websites and shipped them to New York by tying them in tube socks and packing them in boxes that were not designed for wildlife, investigators said. He faces a maximum of five years in prison. Under a pending plea agreement, he must forfeit more than 40 turtles, including 10 Eastern box turtles, three Gulf Coast box turtles, one African spur thigh tortoise and one elongated tortoise
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 30, 2015
The national media is poking fun at New Jersey, again. Time magazine, USA TODAY and other news outlets reported that not only does the Soprano State give dead people the right to vote, it also allows them to drive. The reports were prompted by a bill Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo sponsored to make sure dead people aren’t issued New Jersey driver’s licenses. A state audit revealed that the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission issued licenses to 300 persons who were dead, and of course unable to drive. The bill would require the MVC to compare its records each month with those of the federal Social Security Administration. DeAngelo called the bill common sense and a way to make sure licenses recorded for the deceased don’t fall into the wrong hands of those who are alive and would misuse them.
Larry Higgs, NJ.com, June 18, 2015; Julia Zorthian, Time, June 18, 2015; Kevin Lechiski, WFMZ-TV News, June 21, 2015
Randy Poulson, a 42-year-old Gloucester County resident, pleaded guilty to a $3 million scam that took advantage of down-and-out homeowners and investors who attended his speeches, seminars and monthly dinners where he shared his purported expertise in real estate investing. The feds said Poulson told more than 25 homeowners facing foreclosure that he would pay their mortgages if the houses were sold to him. Once he owned the homes, he let the foreclosures proceed, according to the charges. He then used the properties as fake security to entice private investors into his companies and used the money from the scheme for himself, including payments for a Ventnor beach house, investigators said.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 23, 2015; June 9 and May 14, 2014
Top New Jersey members of the Lucchese crime family pleaded guilty to racketeering related to a multi-billion-dollar gambling operation busted by the feds after an investigation dating back to 2006. The top capo of the New Jersey faction of the Lucchese family, Ralph Perna, of East Hanover; his oldest son, Joseph Perna of Wyckoff; another son John Perna of West Caldwell; the former New Jersey underboss for the Lucchese family Martin Taccetta, of East Hanover; a senior member of the crime family John Mangrella, of Clifton, all pleaded guilty to racketeering along with Matthew Madonna, of New York, a member of the three-man ruling panel of the Lucchese family. Taccetta is already serving a life sentence plus 10 years in prison. He is the brother of Michael Taccetta, considered by some to be the model for the fictional Tony Soprano. (In The Soprano State’s Chapter 8 you can find interesting reading about the Lucchese family.) Acting Attorney General John Hoffman said traditional organized crime remains a “corrosive” presence and continues to make huge profits. “These mob bosses bet that they could get away with their old tricks in New Jersey,” he said. “And I’m pleased to say that they lost their bets.”
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, June 18, 2015
The former Seaville fire chief, Eugene Spiegel, admitted getting reimbursed $46,000 for bogus invoices he submitted to the volunteer fire company. He faces a five year prison sentence on the conspiracy charge. Before he was nabbed by state prosecutors, Spiegel was an inspector with the Office of Weights and Measures at the state Division of Consumer Affairs. The investigation revealed the fire company issued $18,000 in checks to a bogus clothing company with Spiegel’s home address. He also received $17,000 in reimbursements for apparel from a defunct company and was paid $9,500 for firefighter training he never received, investigators said.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, June 18, 2015
A New Jersey man found a way to make $600,000 by mailing fake invoices to 73,000 schools across the country. Robert Armstrong of Franklinville pleaded guilty in federal court to mailing the fraudulent invoices for workbooks that never existed. His invoices asked for payments of $647.50 for math or language workbooks the schools never ordered and never received, investigators said. He included a payment envelope addressed to Sewell, New Jersey or Las Vegas where he had opened mailboxes under the name of Scholastic School Supply LLC, the feds said. Hundreds of schools sent payments, according to the charges. Armstrong is expected to serve three years and eight months in federal prison.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 12, 2015
In another Soprano State scam, two New Jersey men pleaded guilty to selling Occupational Safety and Health Administration certifications to carpenters who never completed the safety training. The cost: $150 to $250 per card. Promoting their goods at work sites, the two found 30 carpenters willing to buy, according to the charges. George Bello of Rochelle Park, who teamed with Frederick Prinz of Marmora, could spend up to five years in prison for the illegal enterprise, prosecutors said.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 11, 2015
Eric Patten of Bayonne, a bookie in a computerized gambling operation with the Genovese Crime family, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and was sentenced to one year and 10 months in federal prison, investigators said. Dominick Barone of Springfield, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the operation and was sentenced to a year and six months. The feds said the two were part of a computerized sports betting operation with old-style collection methods. The online sports betting operation was run through a website in Costa Rica. The feds said while the operation was modern, if bettors failed to pay gambling losses, a Genovese crew used threats to collect the debts.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 16, 2015
West New York Mayor Felix Roque, a doctor who runs a pain relief center, was indicted and charged with referring patients for medical tests in return for cash bribes and campaign contributions. Roque, no stranger to trouble with the authorities, was re-elected last month. State investigators charged that between 2007 and 2012 Roque agreed to refer patients for MRI and CT scans to imaging centers run by Rehan Zuberi in exchange for the bribes. According to the indictment, Zuberi delivered monthly cash kickbacks to Roque totaling $250,000. Some of the payments were made to Roque in his mayoral office at Town Hall, investigators allege. “Mayor Roque put his personal wealth and political career ahead of his patients’ needs,” said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman. Zuberi and his wife Humara Paracha pleaded guilty to bribing doctors to use his centers. Investigators said Zuberi and his employees paid several million dollars to chiropractors and doctors in return for referrals for imaging tests. In another case, Roque was acquitted in 2013 after the feds charged him with conspiring with his son to hack into a website called “Recall Roque” and threatening a political opponent who posted the website.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, June 9 and May 11, 2015; Christopher Baxter, NJ.com, June 9, 2015
In another medical scam, a cardiology practice with several facilities in New Jersey, NJ MedCare/NJ Heart, agreed to pay $3.6 million to settle allegations that it falsely billed federal health care programs for tests that were not medically necessary. The payment settles allegations that cardiologists Jasjit Walia and Preet Randhawa submitted claims to Medicare for stress tests, cardiac catheterizations and other tests that were not needed. The allegations stem from a whistleblower lawsuit, and under federal law, Cheryl Mazurek receives $648,000 for blowing the whistle.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, May 28, 2015
We’ve seen this before, but it never fails to amaze: A Burlington woman pleaded guilty to stealing more than $150,000 in Social Security benefits paid to her mother, after she died. The benefits were paid directly into a joint bank account held by Marshall and her mother, who died in 2003. Marshall failed to tell Social Security that her mother had died, and the payments continued for 10 years until May 2013. Marshall faces a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, June 4, 2015
A Pennsylvania contractor working on a reconstruction project at Ft. Dix military base in Burlington County was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison for Soprano State like behavior. Richard Cottone pleaded guilty to extorting kickbacks from employees and for giving the go-ahead for someone to run down the site manager with a car. The site manager, who had been critical of the contractor’s work, was riding a bike and was seriously injured, investigators said. Cottone is the son-in-law of Leonard Santos of Yardley who owned Sands Mechanical Inc., a subcontractor at the base. Santos, who also pleaded guilty, teamed with Cottone to demand that his employees kickback a percentage of their weekly paychecks or face termination, the feds said. The goal, investigators said, was increased profits.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, May 20, 2015
Chris Christie really spent $82,000 on snacks at professional football games? It’s the kind of story that grabs people and makes them want to shake their heads at New Jersey, again. New Jersey Watchdog reported that during his time in office Christie spent $300,000 of his state allowance on food, alcohol and desserts. Of that money, $82,000 was spent at NFL games (more than $1,400 on 58 occasions). The New Jersey governor earns $175,000 a year, plus $95,000 for expenses. To avoid more embarrassment to the governor, the state GOP stepped in and reimbursed the spending for snacks. But that didn’t prevent the media from having lots of fun. The View talk show had a good chuckle with Christie chowing down on two big screens. Katie McDonough of Salon saluted Christie for his skill. McDonough said she tried to put together a wish list of snacks that totaled the cost of the governor’s, and came up short. Philip Bump of the Washington Post produced at list of better ways to spend the money, including rebuilding of one-tenth of a block of Jersey Shore boardwalk, paying the annually salary for a teacher in Trenton, funding a year’s education for three students in Newark or tuition for three years at Rutgers University. Bump also speculated that it was enough money to get 1,000 men drunk at a Giants game.
Mark Lagerkvist, New Jersey Watchdog, May 11, 2015; Philip Bump, Washington Post, May 11, 2015; Katie McDonough, May 11, 2015
Speaking of spending, the New York law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher billed taxpayers an additional $311,000 over the past five months, bringing the tab to $7.8 million for defending the Christie administration in the case of lane closings at the George Washington Bridge. A report by the firm last year couldn’t determine why the lanes were closed and cleared Gov. Christie of any wrongdoing. Since the report was released, former Port Authority executive David Wildstein admitted to a scheme that reduced lanes to the bridge to punish the Fort Lee mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election. At the same time, the feds indicted Bill Baroni, former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, and Bridget Kelly, former deputy chief of staff to Christie, with conspiracy in the scheme. The two have pleaded not guilty.
Associated Press, May 9, 2015; Salvador Rizzo, The Record, May 9, 2015
Carlia Brady, the first Filipino-American judge in New Jersey, was indicted on charges that she hid her boyfriend, who was wanted for robbing a pharmacy, in her home just two months after she was sworn in. She is charged with official misconduct, harboring a fugitive and with helping her boyfriend avoid arrest by offering him money, transportation and clothing. The boyfriend, Jason Prontnicki, was wanted in connection with an armed robbery where police said he threatened a pharmacy owner with a crowbar and demanded drugs. For more on the trouble Soprano State judges can create for themselves and others, see Chapter Five on court jesters.
Mike Deak, mycentraljersey.com, May 13, 2015; Louis C. Hochman, NJ Advance Media, May 13; Sue Epstein, Star-Ledger, June 13, 2013
Franklin Fortunato, 65, a doctor with a practice in Montclair, is the most recent doctor sentenced in the scheme that traded bribes for medical test referrals. Fortunato was sentenced to a year and two months in prison. Thirty-eight people, including 26 doctors, have pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme. Fortunato admitted accepting more than $100,000 in bribes for referring patients to Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services for blood tests. As part of his federal sentence, Fortunato was ordered to pay a $75,000 fine and forfeit more than $635,000. The state is prosecuting another medical scam in which dozens of doctors were paid bribes to refer patients to certain centers for medical imaging. Rehan Zuberi and his wife Humara Paracha pleaded guilty to bribing the doctors to use the centers Zuberi owned. Investigators said Zuberi, owner of Diagnostic Imaging Affiliates, and his employees paid several million dollars to chiropractors and doctors in return for referrals for MRIs and PET scans.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, May 15, 2015; Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, May 11, 2015
This is another only in New Jersey. An Essex County man is charged with using the website Craigslist to offer a service that helps Soprano State residents illegally register their cars in other states to avoid New Jersey’s high car insurance costs. Shareem Taylor is charged with insurance fraud and conspiracy. An undercover state detective responded to Taylor’s ad (touting six years of experience helping 600 customers) and received a title and license plate from South Dakota for her fictitious car, investigators said. Taylor’s arrest came a week after a law made such insurance rate evasion a form of insurance fraud.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, May 13, 2015; Paul Milo, NJ Advance Media, May 13, 2015
Former Manalapan mayor Andrew Lucas joins a litany of New Jersey mayors who have gone to jail. Federal Judge Freda Wolfson sentenced the 37-year old Lucas to five years in prison. After a two-week trial, it only took the jury three hours to convict Lucas on all counts. The feds charged him with using falsified tax returns and a false claim of $210,00 in cash when applying for a bank loan to finance a 97-acre Manalapan farm. Lucas, who was an investment adviser, convinced a client to invest $250,000 in a company that did not exist at the time, then used the client’s money to purchase the farm, according to the charges. When the feds started investigating, he gave them a fabricated document to back up his story, investigators said. After securing the farm, Lucas received $1.2 million from the state, Monmouth County and Manalapan to preserve it from development. A Princeton University graduate with a degree in economics, he told the judge he did not believe his actions were criminal. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Agarwal had another view: “This case is all about lies. The testimony he gave at the trial was completely untrue. The lies have not stopped.” Lucas will now forfeit the farm. When he goes to jail, he joins what the Asbury Park Press described as New Jersey’s gallery of crooked politicians, many of them mayors, including in recent times Trenton Mayor Tony Mack, Newark Mayor Sharpe James, Waretown Mayor Daniel Van Pelt, Brick Mayor Joseph Scarpelli, West Long Branch Mayor Paul Zambrano, Keyport Mayor John Merla and Marlboro Mayor Matthew Scannapieco.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, May 1, 2015 and Sept. 18 and Feb. 7, 2014; Jean Mikle, Asbury Park Press, May 1, 2015; Kathleen Hopkins, Asbury Park Press, April 1, 2015
The Elizabeth School District has agreed to pay back $272,810 that belonged to the federal school lunch program for needy kids, and instead was used to provide meals and catering for school board meetings and other special functions. In addition, the district will pay a $49,500 penalty. The lawyer for the school district, Bruce Rosen, said it was a bookkeeping error. “It’s all been paid back. It should have come out of the board’s budget, rather than the food services budget.” Therein lies the problem for New Jersey taxpayers who over the years have funded catered food for politicians of all ranks. (Last year NBC 4 New York’s I-Team reported that $330,000 was spent by the Newark public schools on takeout food and catering.) In the hope of changing things, the settlement mandates training for the district, which will be monitored by the state for three years. In addition, the state comptroller last year discovered widespread fraud in the filing of applications for the federal lunch program in New Jersey, particularly among those on the public payroll who knew that checks on the filings were lax. Former Elizabeth School Board president Marie Munn was convicted of filing false applications to the federal school lunch program to obtain free meals for her children. Her case prompted the state review, which found 100 people on the public payroll, or their family members, lied on applications to get free lunches for their children.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, April 20, 2015; Ted Sherman, nj.com, April 20, 2015; NBC I-Team, July 16, 2014
Stephen Depiro, the mobster who according to the FBI managed the Genovese crime family’s control over the New Jersey waterfront and for nearly three decades extorted unionized longshoremen, was sentenced to three years and five months in federal prison. Depiro pleaded guilty to one charge of racketeering conspiracy. Investigators said Depiro, Genovese crime family associates, and high-ranking members of the International Longshoremen’s Association conspired to collect tribute payments from New Jersey port workers every year at Christmas. According to the feds, the payments were enforced by “actual and threatened force, violence and fear.” Nunzio LaGrasso, former vice president of ILA Local 1478, also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years and four months in prison.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, April 15 and 17, 2015
After an eight-week trial and four days of deliberation, a jury convicted Bergen County Democratic boss Joe Ferriero of running the Bergen County Democratic organization like a racketeer. “The evidence we presented at trial described a racketeering operation that ran on influence peddling, bribes and kickbacks,” said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. Ferriero can only be found once in The Soprano State and is listed in Chapter three as a “lesser” political boss. We noted he teamed with former state Sen. John Lynch (who went to jail after pleading guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion related to kickbacks) and South Jersey boss George Norcross to bring Democratic Party control to Bergen County. Ferriero was chairman of the Bergen County Democrats from 1998 to 2009, and during that time the jury concluded that he accepted bribes to recommend a software developer to public officials in Bergen County. While taking one-quarter to one-third of the gross receipts from any contracts that resulted from his efforts, Ferriero’s financial interest in the software developer’s public contracts was hidden by two shell companies, investigators said. The jury did not convict Ferriero on charges related to two other alleged schemes, one involving kickbacks through a government consulting company, the other for alleged bribes related to the now defunct Mills Corp. and Xanadu project. Ferriero’s lawyer Michael Baldassare said he will ask for the racketeering charge to be set aside because his client was only convicted on one scheme. Once before, Ferriero had a conviction on conspiracy and mail fraud charges tossed after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling narrowed what was needed to convict someone for honest services fraud.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, April 16, 2015; Peter Sampson, northjersey.com, April 16, 2015; Thomas Zambito, Star-Ledger, April 16, 2015
After an eight-week trial and three days of deliberation, a jury convicted Rabbis Mendel Epstein of Lakewood and Jay Goldstein and Binyamin Stimler, both of Brooklyn, of a scheme where wives paid a kidnapping and torture team to convince ultra-Orthodox Jewish men to agree to a divorce, known as a “get.” The charge, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. After three Orthodox Jewish men were assaulted, tied up and beaten to obtain a “get,” the FBI conducted an undercover sting where an undercover agent posed as a wife seeking a divorce. In meetings with the undercover agent, Epstein agreed to have his team kidnap the husband for a fee of $60,000, the feds said. A team of eight men went to the warehouse, where the kidnapping was to take place, with equipment that included a 30-foot rope, a blindfold, vodka, and items used to ceremonially record the “get,” investigators said. The FBI moved in and arrested the eight men, and then Epstein, the feds said.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, April 21, 2015
Even though we knew it was coming, we agree with Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich that it was a “punch in the gut.” In federal court, former Port Authority executive David Wildstein admitted to a scheme that reduced lanes to the George Washington Bridge from three lanes to one on the first day of school in 2013, just to punish the mayor for not endorsing Gov. Christie for re-election. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman charged Bill Baroni, former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, and Bridget Kelly, former deputy chief of staff to Christie, with conspiracy in the scheme. Kelly was officially deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs in the governor’s office, known as the IGA unit. Herein lies the problem: According to the feds, the three were unhappy because Sokolich was not going to endorse Christie “despite the efforts of IGA personnel to obtain the endorsement.” This is where the taxpayers of New Jersey get the kick in the gut. A government unit that is supposed to be doing government business is, according to federal prosecutors, using its resources for political reasons and to punish those who don’t fall in line politically with the governor. Wildstein said the three conspired to ignore pleas by the mayor that the traffic problem was causing a threat to public safety. Wildstein also said the three covered up the political motive for closing the lanes by claiming the lane closures were related to a traffic study. Wildstein says he is willing to testify in court. The legal teams for Kelly and Baroni call him a liar. Kelly says it is “ludicrous” to say she is the only one in the governor’s office to know about the lane closures. But Fishman said no more indictments are expected in the case. Christie contends he’s clear, while Wildstein’s lawyer claims there is evidence Christie knew about the closures while they were happening. Sokolich said he is hoping reforms can be put in place to see that this “can never, never happen again.” But this is The Soprano State. When Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure lecture to college ethics classes, we point out that there can’t be an ethics officer in every government office in New Jersey. The culture of corruption that grips New Jersey will only change when those elected, and those who work for them, understand the basic premise that tax dollars are for running government, not for running political campaigns. That’s the big kick in the gut for New Jersey.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, May 1, 2015; Mark Bonamo, politickernj.com, May 1, 2015; Thomas Zambito, nj.com, May 1, 2015; Kate Zernike and Marc Santora, New York Times, May 1, 2015
In a state where corruption is the norm, the indictment of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez still made a splash. And well it should. He is the first U.S. senator charged by the feds with bribery since 1980 when Harrison Williams, also from New Jersey, was indicted. (Williams was convicted and sentenced to three years in federal prison.) A high profile, senior senator, Menendez is no stranger to controversy, and you can find him many places in The Soprano State (Chapters 1,2,3,6,7,8 and 9). Menendez immediately and loudly declared his innocence. But even if he dodges the eight federal counts of bribery, we agree with USA TODAY’s view that the indictment highlights not just a sleazy New Jersey, but a sleazy D.C.: “Whether all this constitutes bribery is almost beside the point. Menendez’s behavior reinforces the disturbing idea that a senator’s influence can be bought and that Congress is for sale.” Menendez and Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, longtime friends, were indicted together. The indictment alleges that between 2006 and 2013, Menendez accepted nearly $1 million in lavish gifts (private jet flights and vacations) and campaign contributions from Melgen in exchange for helping the doctor with a contract dispute with the Dominican Republic, with a Medicare billing dispute worth $8.9 million (an audit found Melgen double or triple charged Medicare for vials of eye medicine) and with visa applications for the married doctor’s girlfriends. The two men argue that friendship made it legal. “Prosecutors at the Justice Department don’t know the difference between friendship and corruption,” Menendez said.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, April 1, 2015; Matt Apuzzo, New York Times, April 1, 2015; editorial board, USA TODAY, April 7, 2015
- Just a year after he resigned as chairman of the Port Authority, David Samson announced that he is retiring from the high-profile law firm of Wolff & Samson that he founded in 1972. The firm is changing its name and will not include Samson. A pal to both Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey and Republican Gov. Chris Christie, Samson has come under scrutiny by the feds on several fronts. In addition to investigating the Port Authority’s closing of Fort Lee lanes at the George Washington Bridge, the feds have subpoenaed authority records related to contracts awarded to the clients of Samson’s law firm, according to the New York Times. Federal prosecutors also have subpoenaed authority records related to Samson’s personal travel and his relationship with United Airlines, part of a probe into a flight between Newark and Columbia, South Carolina, where Samson has a home, the Record reported. The flight route was started after Samson became chairman of the Port Authority, which operates the Newark airport. The feds also are interested in communications between Samson and United’s former lobbyist, Jamie Fox, according to the Record . (Fox, once McGreevey’s transportation secretary, has now been given the same job by Gov. Christie).
Steve Strunsky, NJ.com, April 7, 2015; Shawn Boburg, Record, Feb. 5, 2015; Kate Zernike, New York Times, March 28, 2014
- The school test cheating scandal in Atlanta has a big New Jersey connection. Now deceased Beverly Hall headed the trouble-ridden Newark schools before heading to Atlanta to run schools there. A grand jury indicted Hall and 34 others on charges that they conspired to cheat on standardized tests in Atlanta. Hall maintained her innocence. But a jury convicted 11 educators (teachers, testing coordinators and administrators) on racketeering charges often reserved for mobsters. Judge Jerry Baxter ordered the 11 handcuffed and immediately jailed. “They have made their bed, and they’re going to have to lie in it, and it starts today,” the judge said.
Alan Blinder, New York Times, April 1, 2015
- After a long legal fight by the state to recover nearly $9 billion in environmental damages from Exxon Mobil Corporation, the Christie administration settled for $225 million, just as the judge was about to make a ruling. Democrats and environmentalists are up in arms. The deal ends the company’s liability at its Bayway and Bayonne refineries and 16 other facilities statewide and at hundreds of gas stations previously owned by Exxon. Christie called the settlement “historic,” said the $9 billion originally sought had no basis in fact and that the settlement will be enough for needed cleanups. Jeff Tittel, director of the NJ Sierra Club, called it the largest sellout in state history. Princeton professor of public affairs Julian Zelizer said the Exxon settlement could come back to bite Christie in a presidential race. And the New York Times reported that while Exxon did not make any campaign contributions to Gov. Christie, the company did give $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association in May 2014 when he was its chairman. The company said the contribution to the association had nothing to do with the governor.
Chase Brush, politickernj.com, April 7, 2015; Heather Haddon, Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2015; Benjamin Weiser, New York Times, Feb. 27, 2015
- In his pursuit of the White House, Christie will surely face questions about his out of state and overseas travel style. The New York Times noted that while Christie “bluntly preached transparency and austerity as the antidote to bloated state budgets,” during his public jobs he “indulged a taste that runs more toward Champagne at the Four Seasons.” In a trade mission to Israel in 2012, Christie had his own bedroom on a private plane lent by Sheldon Adelson, billionaire casino owner. Traveling with the governor was his wife, three children, his mother-in-law, his father and stepmother, four staffers, his former law partner and a state trooper, the NYT reported. At the end of the trip King Abdullah of Jordan paid for rooms in luxury hotels that cost $30,000, the Times reported. More locally, Christie drew controversy by flying to Dallas Cowboy games on owner Jerry Jones’ plane. New Jersey Watchdog reported that executive protection for Christie is 18 times more than when he took office. Watchdog has filed suit to obtain the records for the nearly $800,000 in travel expenses charged to credit cards for the governor’s state police security unit.
Kate Zernike and Michael Barbaro, New York Times, Feb. 2, 2015; Bob Ingle, Asbury Park Press, March 2, 2015
- Thirty-seven people, including 25 doctors, have now pleaded guilty in connection with a bribery scheme that paid doctors bribes for ordering lab tests. Angelo Calabrese, a North Arlington doctor, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years and one month in prison. Calabrese admitted accepting $130,000 in bribes to refer $600,000 in lab business to Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services, which made $100 million in the scheme, according to the FBI.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, April 2, 2015
- Olivia Nuzzi of The Daily Beast wrote that “it might as well be every day that a politician from New Jersey is revealed corrupt.” She asked Bob Ingle why this is so, and he answered: “There is something about this state, whether it’s the air or in the water or whatever it is, that just makes people more accepting of corrupt practices.” To prove his point, these from federal and state prosecutors:
Jersey City fire inspector Phillip Procaccino was sentenced to prison for one year and one day for accepting a $2,500 bribe in exchange for his help in obtaining a certificate of occupancy (and advance notice of inspections) for a prostitution business.
Patterson city council member and former council president Anthony Davis was sentenced to two years in prison for accepting $10,000 in bribes from a purported developer.
Johnny Garces, an inspector at the Union City Community Development Agency, pleaded guilty to conspiring with contractors to rig the selection of contractors for home improvement and sidewalk replacement projects. The scheme cost $400,000 in federal funding.
Essex County corrections officer Stephon Solomon was sentenced to one year and six months in prison for his part in a scheme to smuggle marijuana, cellphones and tobacco into the Essex County prison.
Former assistant division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration, Lawrence Cullari Jr., of Tinton Falls, pleaded guilty to using a straw company in a fraud scheme to obtain grant funds.
After three hours of deliberation, a jury found deputy director of the Hudson County Correctional Facility, Kirk Eady, guilty of illegally wiretapping co-workers and another individual who were critical of his work performance.
Former Piscataway teacher John Brishcar pleaded guilty to stealing $249,000 in New Jersey disability pension payments while he was teaching in other states.
Robert Kahan, developer of three Trenton affordable housing projects, was sentenced to two years and three months in prison for diverting project money for personal and unauthorized purposes.
- In typical Jersey style:
Andrew and Brenda Webster of Cedarville admitted torching Angie’s Bridgeton Grill, a nearly 75-year-old diner on the National Register of Historic Places, after they ran into financial troubles. According to the feds, the two owners entered the diner early one morning, doused combustible materials with gas and then ignited them. The diner was destroyed, and Brenda suffered burns when gas vapors ignited, the feds said.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Feb.3,2015
- Nicholas Severino Jr., of Paulsboro, was indicted and charged with collecting his father’s Social Security benefits for 29 years after he died. Severino Jr. is accused of stealing $243,000. State investigators said Severino’s father had worked a second job using a false name and a second Social Security number. After the father died in 1984, Severino Jr. continued to collect the benefits under the false identity, the indictment alleges. The payments were only stopped in 2013 after the agency couldn’t find the father.
Associated Press, Feb. 25, 2015
- It is hard to imagine that it could go this wrong. When Chris Christie was first running for governor, Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure were constantly asked what kind of a governor he would be. The only answer we had was that he had been an impressive U.S. attorney, and we did not know how that would convert to becoming a governor. Now we know. The unpopular governor (who seems determined to run for president) remains mired in ethical controversies of his own making, his re-election campaign has been subpoenaed, and he’s been questioned by the FBI about the George Washington Bridge scandal. No one should deny the governor the right to root for the football team of his choice, but allowing the owner of the Dallas Cowboys to foot expensive bills for game viewing defies common sense and dances around ethics rules for governors accepting gifts. Along with Christie’s cozy personal relationship with Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones, news outlets quickly reported that Christie and the New York governor urged the awarding of a Port Authority contract to operate the One World Trade Center’s observatory deck to a firm partly owned by the Dallas Cowboys. And as Bob Ingle pointed out, even if Christie begins to pick up his own football travel tabs, taxpayers are still footing the bill for state trooper protection during his travel, a cost that has skyrocketed since Christie took office. Now, add a news report that one of the members of the governor’s ethics board, Peter Verniero, a longtime political operative in Trenton and former state Supreme Court justice, is a senior member of the law firm Sills, Cummis & Gross that does work for the Port Authority. (The firm’s lawyer said there is no conflict of interest.) And then add: Congressman Frank Pallone wants a federal probe into whether Christie and his controversial top Port Authority aide Bill Baroni broke the law when they released E-ZPass information about Sen. Frank Lautenberg during a dispute with Lautenberg over a Port Authority toll hike.
Bob Jordan, Asbury Park Press, Jan. 5, 2015; David Sirota, International Business Times, Jan. 6 & Jan. 19, 2015; Matt Friedman, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 11, 2015; Josh Margolin, abcnews.go.com, Jan. 9, 2015; Heather Haddon, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 7, 2015; Bob Ingle, Politics Patrol, Asbury Park Press, Jan. 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 2015
- This is clearly a New Jersey-style story that grabbed some headlines: Monique Smith, a newly promoted female police captain in Irvington, is charged with using her own vehicle to repeatedly ram the vehicle of Newark Councilman John Sharpe James (the son of former Mayor Sharpe James). She faces charges of aggravated assault, stalking, weapons violations, harassment and criminal mischief. A source told politickernj.com the two were dating. Police said after her promotion event, Smith confronted James near his Newark home about 11 p.m., and as she yelled at him, he jumped into his car and drove away. She followed him in her own vehicle, using it to strike his vehicle several times. James then drove to the home of his father, who intervened, police said. The former mayor may have been able to help his son, but a state appellate court gave him no help with his own issues. The court agreed that James and his treasurer Cheryl Johnson violated the law when they used $94,000 in campaign money for his criminal defense and the money must be returned. The longtime mayor was convicted of fraud and conspiracy for steering city-owned land to his mistress.
Dan Ivers, Star-Ledger, Jan. 6, 2015; politicker staff, Jan. 6 & 16, 2015; nbcnewyork.com, Jan. 6, 2015
- Two engineers with the state Department of Transportation pleaded guilty to crimes: Harish Bhanderi admitted stealing $20,000 in overtime, and Gaudner Metellus admitted teaming with an accomplice in a scheme that inflated the cost of a bridge repair by $700,000 and solicited $325,000 in bribes. Bhanderi, manager of the state’s roadway maintenance, turned in more than 100 fake claims for overtime time by claiming he was responding to roadway emergencies. Instead, prosecutors said, he and another DOT employee were merely driving by locations where emergencies had happened either days or weeks earlier. Acting Attorney General John Hoffman called the deception an “affront to taxpayers.” Metellus, as a senior engineer with DOT, was responsible for certifying the need for bridge repairs and inspecting the work in connection with a state grant program. According to investigators, officials with the Morristown and Erie Railway Inc. alerted the feds when Metellus suggested that the company submit false invoices for work that would never be done and then split the state grant money with him and an accomplice. The railroad company audiotaped a meeting between the company CEO and Metellus, who described how the scheme would work, and then the company contacted state prosecutors, investigators said.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, Jan. 5 and Jan 9, 2015
- Another sad school story: The former superintendent of Rockaway schools pleaded guilty to attempted witness tampering. According to federal investigators, former superintendent Gary Vitta, who handled insurance contracts for the school district, accepted $4,000 from three insurance brokers at a Vitta family gathering. After one of the brokers was contacted by the FBI, Vitta met with the broker at a New Jersey restaurant and handed the broker a note telling him to lie to the feds about the $4,000. (In true New Jersey style, investigators said Vitta, after accepting the $4,000, returned it and then accepted it again.) The feds take witness tampering seriously, and Vitta faces up 20 years in prison.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Jan. 5, 2015
- Guttenberg contractor Leovaldo Fundora admitted rigging a proposal to the Union City Community Development Agency for federally funded sidewalk improvements. Federal investigators said Fundora, two agency inspectors and two other contractors worked together in a scheme that had the contractors submit phony proposals higher than those submitted by Fendora’s company. The scam gave Fundora two sidewalk replacement contracts for Kerrigan Avenue and 13th Street in Union City for $3,900 each, the feds said. He faces big penalties for the small contracts: up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Jan. 14, 2015
- Add this to all the bad news about New Jersey: Bob Ingle pointed out that New Jersey residents agree with Chris Christie’s love for traveling outside New Jersey. Only residents are making it permanent. For the third year in a row, New Jersey was number one in the nation when it comes to residents moving out of their home state. United Van Lines reported that of 6,172 New Jersey moves in 2014, 65 percent were outbound. New York and Illinois had more moves, but slightly less were out of state. When it comes to inbound moves, Oregon topped the list. Of 4,121 moves, 66 percent were inbound. Where else are inbound moves high? South Carolina, North Carolina, Vermont and Florida.
Bob Ingle, Politics Patrol, Asbury Park Press, Jan. 5, 2015